While I enjoyed many holiday conversations with family and friends, the one that sticks out the most in my mind was a conversation about car odors. Oh, the stories and oh, the laughs! I’m not sure how we got to the conversation, but it certainly flickered an idea for a blog when someone asked, “So how do you get rid of those smells?”
Anyone who has lived with children—newborn to teenagers—and animals, and have carted them around from one event to the next in the mom-mobile, knows those smells—spit up/vomit, diapers/urine, milk, French fries, mustard, ketchup, apple juice, dirty or wet clothes and shoes, coffee, peanut butter, dog breath, wet dog, cigarette smoke, etc.
The smell of a new car is intoxicating but quickly disappears with human use. If you’d like to regain a bit of that new-car smell, here’s some tips. I make no promise that these tips will return you vehicle to a showroom quality smell but do promise a clean, fresh, and better smelling car to enjoy.
- Pick a sunny day to clean, if possible. Throw away all the trash, dirt, and refuse. Remove the floor mats, child seats, and child seat mats.
- Thoroughly vacuum the carpet and seats. The headliner may also be vacuumed. If the odors are particular strong, sprinkle baking soda on the carpet and cloth seats and let sit for several hours before vacuuming.
- Use vehicle cleaning wipes or a wet cloth to wipe down the dash board, the inside of the doors, door rests, steering wheel, seat belts, seats, seat backs, and other surfaces. Be sure to get between the seats and seat backs where spills can reside and go unnoticed. If there are food spills on seats or carpet, use a wet cloth to gently rub and wash the spill away as much as possible. A 50/50 white vinegar and water solution in a clean spray bottle is good for cleaning as well as eliminating odors. Use a lint-free or microfiber cloth for wiping. There will be no residual vinegar smell once it has dried. Vinegar water is quite effective even on cigarette smoke.
- Clean the floor mats. Use warm water and a few drops of dish soap water. Place the mats on a flat surface (maybe the driveway) and scrub the mats with a soft scrubbing brush and the solution. Rinse the mats and hang them to dry before placing back in your car.
- Use a leather cleaner to clean leather seats following the manufactures directions.
- Shine the inside window glass, mirrors, screens, and light covers using the vinegar/water solution or your favorite window cleaner and a lint-free cloth to wipe.
- Launder the infant/child seat covers and thoroughly clean the plastic liner, base, and lock- down belts with the vinegar/water solution.
- If you are a fan of commercial odor neutralizers, hanging car fresheners, or essential oils, use them sparingly in your freshly cleaned car. Some of them can undo the cleaning, scrubbing and elbow grease you just put into your vehicle. Most of these products simply mask the odor rather than solve them; further, they may give off irritating odors for those who are sensitive to them.
Once you have a clean smelling car, try to keep it that way. Place a container or containers of some sort in the vehicle for collecting refuse or containing equipment. Take a couple of minutes after every event or trip to make sure all equipment, dirty clothes, food wrappers, etc., are removed from the vehicle. Clean up spills right away or as soon as possible. Seal sweaty clothes/shoes or dirty diapers in garbage or zip bags. Do a weekly cleaning as often as possible and a thorough cleaning three or four times annually.
And if these DIY tips don’t bring the relief that you seek, replace the cabin air filter in your vehicle. You may also want to consider a professional cleaning job. Additional sources of help are air filtration products that can be purchased. Two favorites are an air purifier (Frieg, $20) that can be plugged into the power outlet and a compact filtration system (Philips Go-Pure, $144) that attaches to the back of a seat. Both of these products are designed to improve air quality by eliminating smoke, pollen, dust, and other irritants.
Here’s to a healthier, happier, smell-free ride!